the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
MODELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Technology will eventually, within decades perhaps, be capable of reproducing reality in near-perfect verisimilitude, providing sensations that seem to the perceiver to be actual representations of the material world. This technology, virtual reality, is already in development, and when it comes about will be the product of human research and invention, with all the limitation that implies. And when humans witness themselves that humanity can create perceptual realities apart from the material world, they should and perhaps even will learn to doubt the materialist cosmology that has for all of history and most probably all of human existence been the common faith. For if humanity can create virtual worlds, it must logically be supposed that some higher power ― not God or even gods but merely something more powerful and sophisticated than humanity, which few would deny ― could easily do the same. And if a higher power can produce virtual reality, humans must admit the possibility that one has already done so. And then, though it would overthrow worldviews and doctrines and every régime of comfort, humans must begin to consider the possibility that some higher power has created a virtual reality in which we ourselves are immersed.
For how could we tell the difference? When it becomes evident how sophisticated a virtual world a small group of technicians and programmers can produce, the degree of sophistication required to produce our reality would be no great miracle. Of course, there is not sufficient reason to believe that this is fact. But there is no more reason to believe the materialist version of reality, where countless quintillions of infinitesimal particles work together in systems so incredibly complex that they produce consciousness as epiphenomenon. Either conclusion is speculation.
The principle of Ockham’s Razor, admittedly an article of faith itself, would suggest that our reality is virtual. This would certainly be the simpler explanation. It requires the position of many fewer fundamental entities. And it begins with the assumption of reality for the consciousness, which is the seat of thought and the recipient of all the sensations upon which “empirical” materialism is based. The materialists would use perception as the measure of all things, but relegate the necessary consciousness to the status of incidental or even dubious. This, at least, violates all acceptable principles of logic.
The specific model for consciousness under virtual reality is also a product of technology ― the video game. The game depends on a program which defines an artificial world. The world begins with certain established facts and operates according to certain fixed laws. But there is always an indeterminate element, a variable, which allows the player to influence the artificial world. The computer which houses the program calculates the appearance of the imaginary world as seen from the perspective of the player looking at the display screen. The player takes control of the variable, usually a character in the world, by means of buttons or joysticks. The player decides what it would like the character to do, and inputs that decision into the computer. The computer uses the variable along with the previously-established information to recalculate the state of the imaginary world according to the established laws. It then recalculates the appearance of the world from the player’s perspective and revises the display. This cycle of output and input and recalculation is ongoing and interactive. There is essentially no limit to the complexity of the program or the interaction; nor is there a limit to the number of variables ― multiplayer games are as old as video games themselves.
Suppose, then, a more sophisticated version of this arrangement. A powerful computer, the apparatus, houses a complicated program detailing an imaginary world, the perceptual realm. The apparatus is equipped with output mechanisms for visual, audial, tactile, and other sensations. It receives input directly from the thought intentions of individual minds. It serves as the physical medium through which these minds can interact with the perceptual realm. The perceptual realm serves as the conceptual medium through which the minds can interact with each other. The perceptual realm, perceived by the minds as virtual reality, is indistinguishable from any proposed material realm, which is of course only known through perception.
The circular room
Understanding collective consciousness is more difficult, as the analogues are less direct and more metaphorical. And where technology may soon make it possible for humans to overcome the counterintuitive nature of immaterialism, it will not likely facilitate the direct interaction of multiple minds; and in the collective consciousness there is not so much as detectable individuality.
Imagine a round room surrounded by a dark corridor. Between the room and the corridor are numerous windows. Each window looks into the room from a different perspective, obviously, but each also has a different quality of filter. Some windows may be perfectly transparent. Some are nearly opaque. There are various distortions in the light, as of refractions from thickness or color filters. And perhaps within each window are patterns of different glass that capture many different properties in different places.
All of the activity and light is within the room. The room is filled with objects and motion. If a person wished to know the reality within the room, no one perspective would suffice. Each window would provide a different sort of information. The location of the window along the corridor would heavily influence that information, as well as the quality of the glass. But objects within the room would obscure parts of the room from view, in different ways from different perspectives. Perhaps the clearest glass would show the most obstructed view of the room.
If the person attempted to describe the room from a single perspective, that description might seem wholly nonsensical to a person observing from a different window. If the person had to make decisions based on information from a single perspective, those decisions might seem foolish to a person with other information. If the person had a perspective that provided little information, it would easily become frustrated. If the person were punished for the nature of decisions made with very limited information, it would easily become fearful, belligerent, open to influence, or withdrawn.
The idea of the collective consciousness is that there is in fact only one person in the corridor. What seems like difference in intelligence and personality in the individual minds as they appear in the perceptual realm is in fact nothing other than difference in perspective. The collective wisely makes use of all the perspectives. And when it sees clearly the truth of the situation, and the truth of the perceptual realm, it resolves to treat the realm and all the things within it as the environment of its existence, and all of the minds within it as itself. It works to improve the understanding of the other perspectives, and to limit the suffering at all points. It works to preserve the realm in a state that causes itself the least suffering and allows itself the greatest chance for further development. It does not allow itself, operating from another perspective, to damage the realm, or to inflict suffering within it. But it recognizes as well that those actions are its own actions, and that it will or has committed them solely because, from those perspectives, it does not understand what it is doing.
© O.T. FORD
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and O.T. Ford